The unbeaten Gannon University football team is off to its best start in 65 years after a 33-7 win over host Clarion Saturday in front of 5,512 fans at Memorial Stadium.
But it’s going to take a major effort to keep the Knights’ streak alive.
Running back Brock Jones rushed for a career-high 213 yards and Justin Caliste recorded his second consecutive 100-yard receiving game in last week’s win over Clarion as Gannon improved to 4-0 for the first time since the 1949 season, when the Knights finished 8-0.
“I don’t think anyone here is surprised,” said Gannon coach Brad Rzyczycki, whose team boosted its Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference record to 3-0.
“There wasn’t a doubt that we would be 4-0.”
A 71-yard opening drive set up a Karch Holland 27-yard field goal for Gannon, putting the Knights up 3-0 with 4:49 left to play in the first quarter.
Clarion (2-2, 2-1 PSAC) would respond on the ensuing possession with a seven-play, 63-yard drive to take a 7-3 lead with 34 seconds left in the opening quarter. Connor Simmons put the Golden Eagles on the board with a 7-yard touchdown run.
Gannon would regain the lead, however, and take a 10-7 lead going into halftime after Liam Nadler connected on a 21-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman Brendon Klemensic.
It was the first catch of the season for Klemensic, the former Cathedral Prep standout.
On the opening drive following the intermission, Nadler would lead the Knights down the field and score on 27-yard touchdown run, his first of three second-half rushing touchdown.
The touchdown capped a 53-yard drive, with 45 of those yards coming off the run.
On the following Gannon possession Nadler would score again on a 1-yard run to put the Knights up 23-7.
Nadler normally does his damage through the air, but his three rushing touchdowns are a testament to his other skills, backfield mate Jones said later.
“Liam’s quarterback ability all around raises our level of play as an offense,” Jones said.
A Holland 33-yard field goal and another Nadler rushing touchdown in the final quarter would seal the deal for Gannon.
The Knights showed solid balance offensively, as they rushed for 285 yards in 47 attempts while Nadler completed 21-of-33 passes for 246 yards and one touchdown. Defensively, Gannon held Clarion to just 208 total yards.
While the Knights certainly appreciate their unbeaten start, Jones and his teammates know they have a major obstacle ahead of them Saturday.
“It feels great to be 4-0,” Jones said. “Obviously it’s the start we were looking for but we have to go out and get the win this week in what could be the biggest game in program history.”
Jones was referring to Saturday’s 4 p.m. showdown on the road against undefeated Slippery Rock, which is ranked No. 20 in the NCAA Division II poll and is coming off a 63-19 beating of Seton Hill last week.
The Knights and The Rock are the only unbeaten teams in the PSAC Western Division.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Rzyczycki said. “I don’t think there is any pregame speech I have to give to get these guys going on Saturday night.”